How to implement policy: Commonwealth's updated guide

By David Donaldson

October 15, 2014

Successful Implementation of Policy Initiatives
Successful Implementation of Policy Initiatives

A revised and updated version of the Better Practice Guide: Successful Implementation of Policy Initiatives was released on Wednesday by the Australian National Audit Office in collaboration with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The guide, first released in 2006, has been updated “to incorporate key developments since that time”. The idea behind the publication is to draw on practical experience in implementing policy to provide examples of better practice to help in the realisation of program objectives. It has been written to be applicable to both senior leaders and those at the coalface of implementation.

The challenges of successful policy implementation have been highlighted in recent years in ANAO reports on initiatives such as the Home Insulation Program, the Air Warfare Destroyer Program, and the Green Loans Program.

"Better practice considerations for successfully implementing policy initiatives"
“Better practice considerations for successfully implementing policy initiatives”

The guide emphasises the need for effective, ongoing risk management and the early consideration of implementation in policy design, stating that leaving consideration of implementation strategies too late can lead to:

“… sub-optimal delivery methods; over ambitious timeframes; resources not being available when required; inappropriate skills or capability for the initiative; and insufficient consultation and contingency planning.”

It includes a series of checklists for senior leaders to consider, as well as quotes from those with experience in the field.

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The guide does not address ongoing management and delivery of programs other than to emphasise the need for “active management” to ensure intended outcomes can be reached.

Wise words: some key advice

“… risk management … is one of those disciplines [that] if done well, will generally not be visible for all to see. Sadly, only risk management failures attract attention, and headlines. Thus an organisation’s leadership needs to compensate for this asymmetry by reinforcing the positive outcomes of risk management action.”

“Create an environment where people are prepared to ask for help early enough and not at a crisis point. The culture must be to encourage staff to identify problems and to ensure that they are addressed.”

“It is also important to understand where the chickens will come home to roost if risks aren’t managed effectively by one of your ‘partners’.”

“The thing that kills implementation is a late system change.”

“Need to recognise there are different skills required for implementation. Training needs are sometimes ‘shortcut’ during implementation. However, there are costs to the program on cutting back resources, communication and training.”

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Kevin Riley
7 years ago

This Better Practice Guide and an excellent and timely addition to the tools available for public sector leaders and managers.

Whilemy financial focus might take me to the costings of new policy, I recognise that successful policy development and implementation is more than just building a budget. It is important to recognise that the key budget assumptions all reside within the detail of the implementation planning. The more information captured at the beginning of the process and set out as key assumptions, the better the monitoring of actual expenses against a budget. A stronger focus on actual to budget analysis with explanations will be
required in future financial reporting by entities.

Clarityabout outcomes and objectives and how elements of policy, while delivered through different programmes, may all contribute to shared outcomes and objectives is also a key element of effective implementation. Whole-of-Government and National responses are increasingly required for the more complex public policy questions we face.

The very strong focus on risk management and performance reporting and KPIs is very pleasing to see. This guidance complements the Commonwealth’s Risk Management Policy, launched in July this year, and the recent Department of Finance Discussion Paper Enhanced Commonwealth Performance Framework. We will see further developments on risk management, internal control and KPIs as the full effects of the PGPA Act come into effect over the next year.

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